I am highly inclined to tag this one as ‘The Empire Strikes Back‘ of series, notwithstanding the fact that the third book is yet to be covered. And Liu’s ultra-pragmatic Dark Forest deterrence theory, among many other things, blew me away to such an extent that I might not look the Fermi Paradox, the same way ever again.
Though Dark Forest picks up exactly from where Three Body Problem had left us, by roughly building its premise from and post events of its predecessor; the novel can stand alone well on its own, with maybe, a tweaked preface. Humanity is still under the threat of Trisolaris, who have now mobilized their fleet in Earth’s direction, expecting an interception in four centuries or so. And Earth’s defences are widely exposed in strategy and crippled in scientific progress, by ‘sophones’ who do the dual job of enemy recon and deterrence. I was surprised by the way Liu lightened this seemingly grim premise with constant introduction to mind-blowing ideas and concepts, without breaking their continuity with everything that has happened in the fictional universe and actual science so far. The Wallfacer project, for example is the first domino in his contraption, which grants four individuals unbounded freedom and resources to engineer strategies over Trisolaris on projected Doomsday, even if entire humanity is kept in deception. To me, the whole wallfacer idea, the ultimate intelligence vault, was one of the most fascinating concept, in my reading history. And the book had more of the sort, only if bigger and better, up its sleeve.
It may be unfair to judge a translated work for its literature merits, and the writing here is absolutely within limits of criticisms, that cannot be evaded by the lingo cultural card. Yet, Liu‘s style was highly committed to its course, strictly following Chekhov’s gun policy, except maybe for a few misplaced McGuffins. Thing is, during the long time span of novel, reader might forget more than a few of those probable digressions, only to have it reminded by Author further during the read. In my opinion Three Body Problem was a bit demanding, with its groundwork in remote history and near future scientific principles; The Dark Forest on the other hand, felt more accessible, as an extended reaction towards the First Contact story line. Also, Liu’s inoculation of scientific ideas made me think in a discursive course during the read than being intuitive about the plot. As a reader, I never felt under equipped to understand the rocket science; For the author has been, subtlety instilling the required science and philosophy, without them ever appearing like expositions. I found this treatment very restorative.
The book encapsulates in essence the paranoia and defeatist pessimism, when people have to make peace with the possibility of an impending doom. The future where environmentalism is a luxury and nationalism is insignificant reminded me of Forever War and Blade Runner. The perplexing escapist question is whether to save for upcoming generations at the expense of current, while the future of very civilization is uncertain. But the way, Liu painted this bleak ‘inequality of survival’ scenario, which ideally should have been drained of morality and resources, was pretty bright. Along with the Chinese citations that are bound to go over our head, this book offers passing references to a lot of popular sci-fi from Verne to Asimov, with careful consideration on basic science. A good illustration would be the explanation for something as a space ship reaching escape velocity from our solar system, or possibility of detecting a star system or deploying a space fleet. A casual reader would hardly question any of those, but Liu‘s narrative attaches decipherable details and delightful interconnections, rather than leaving them as convenient plot devices. His practice of carpe diem, in story and writing, has my utmost respect. I badly want to discuss the axioms of cosmic civilizations and other mind blowing concepts in this book, but like a Wallfacer, I am compelled to keep them to myself, or else I would be spoiling the reading experience.
I’ve been keeping myself off from reading for a few days, after finishing the book, just to extend the unaltered excitement little more, and to perhaps, formulate an unbiased opinion. One might nitpick on pace, narratives and characters; but, to me, they were perception checks to appreciate the genius of Liu. For, over the grand scale of story, The Dark Forest felt like the work of a higher being like Trisolran than a normal human in creativity.
A tribute film to Dark Forest – Waterdrops